As far as getting Robert’s luggage back when we were in Karak-dong during his visit in January, 1998, we had to get Anthony to get it back after we waited a week. He called Korean Air and was on the lounge desk phone for a long time speaking Korean. We were going to give up when Anthony said excitedly something and “…Han Shin Apat…!?!?!!…”, and I knew if they could find those apartments they could find us. Not long after, Robert’s bag was dropped off. We never could have gotten it by ourselves.
Many people I saw on the streets had little white, yellow or blue masks over their noses and mouths in the late 90’s and often the Korean people mentioned “pollution”. When I said I liked the yellow moon, Anthony had scoffed and said it’s yellow because of the “pollution”. They say I couldn’t see the land of North Korea well at the observatory because of these particles in the air. I did learn they had gas burning in their cars that wasn’t refined as well as it was in Canada and they said it made more bad air. Many times there was a haze in front of what you wanted to see. One businessman told me the pollution is worse in wintertime, and I think it’s because of the colder air. The particles in the air are moving more slowly in the cold air and they can’t move away as well as in the warm weather.
While I was still teaching in Seoul, I read a magazine about how it’s common for some people in Delhi, India or Mexico City to have a ‘carbon ring’ inside their noses. It means if you put a tissue to your nose you will get a black smudge on the tissue. It’s because a person has a black powdery deposit inside his nostrils due to breathing such bad air from the exhaust and emissions everywhere. I had a carbon ring inside my nose while I lived there! Honestly!
Learning the Language….
Once I had gotten lost a week after I arrived in Seoul for the first time and wanted to be able to say Thank You to that bus driver, I voiced my wish to learn Korean to Miss Park downstairs. Soon afterward she gave me a small English-Korean phrasebook. When I travelled to and from classes later I would look at a character on a sign anywhere and find it in my little book and gradually form a word in my head. I learned their 24-character alphabet that way in the next few weeks. What a great relief to learn what the signs said : “…B……….A……….N………” “…….G……..” “Bang!!!” One meaning for “bang” is bread….. It was a bakery! They were everywhere. It was only a Korean bakery and it was harmless. What are these places??? “….B….I……D…….I…..O……” They were just ‘Video’ stores that rented out movies! Being able to read relieved my anxiety while I was living there. Even now, I can read what most of it says but I don’t often know what it means as my vocabulary is lacking.
Also, many Koreans told me they were surprised at my pronounciation being better than they would have expected. I had realised right away that their vowel sounds are like French vowel sounds, and not like English vowel sounds. I could pronounce their words better because I used that French pronounciation of their I’s, A’s, E’s, O’s and U’s instead of English ones. Knowing French helped me speak a third language. And twenty-two years after I learned the words for “garlic” and “onion” I remember to say Man-eul and Yang-pa like it was yesterday….
When I was planning to go there for our vacation in late 1999, I readied myself to say “…..Do you have a/any _________…” This can apply to “…Is there a _________ ?…” as well. So I could easily find out if there was a bathroom where I was or if the merchant had any, let’s say, batteries. I had to know “…issoyo…” I just had to know and say, “…Battery issoy-o…..??…” or “…Hwa-jang-shil issoy-o…” Do you have batteries here? Is there a bathroom here? Of course knowing “hwa-jang-shil” meant “toilet” helped too. As far as being ready to travel there and speak Korean, it helped me to learn that “bang” also meant “room” and it helped me to get my husband and I a room in a hotel or cheap inn. You can’t say “bang” like we would say the bang bang of a gun; you have to say it like you were pronouncing it in French, almost like “bung”. And even Sang Hyun’s name is pronounced “Sung” in English and not “Sang”, like “Sang a song”.
Vacation in 1999….
I wanted to travel in Korea once I had gotten back to Canada in 1998. I planned a 2-week vacation during October 1999 for me and Robert. I read my Lonely Planet travel guide over and over and dreamed of all I would see. And Sail told us to stay with his wife SoJoung in Seollung while we visited Seoul. Unfortunately, Sail was living in the US setting up LG sales of cellphones while we visited, and I had lost touch with Sang Hyun at that time. It was my own fault that I hadn’t been communicating with Sang Hyun because I was afraid my husband would be too jealous of him. I got in touch with him later when I was back in Canada in the year 2000. For our vacation I planned an affordable big trip and used my travel guide, which people don’t need to look at now, to find places and transportation and affordable inns.
All the Korean people said Changdeokkung was the nicest palace because it wasn’t open to the public until recently because it was considered to be a “Secret Palace”. The commoners weren’t allowed to know what it looked like for a long, long time. There was a pond inside the grounds that was scenic and calm and beautiful, with special structures around it. This was called the “Secret Garden”. You couldn’t go and see it by walking around freely. Everyone had to be part of a guided tour at Changdeokkung. The day Robert and I went we could only get in on the Korean tour, so I have no specific knowledge of what the buildings were for and I have to use my imagination about them.
The wonderful thing was that at the end of the tour the Canadian man started talking to us. His name was Merv and he was from British Columbia and was on a self-planned trip all over Asia. He had been to Taiwon and liked it best. We walked around with him and had lunch in a little ddokbogi (the pounded rice cakes in red, spicy sauce) restaurant. The teenagers ate ddokbogi for lunch commonly so there were many young Korean students sitting there in their school uniforms. These ones were all guys. We only paid around 3 dollars each for our bowls.
While we walked with Merv, we came across another palace called UnHyeongGung. It is small and was really a ‘royal residence’ for some relatives of kings years and years ago. Today it’s a museum of Hanbok clothes and other traditional items. The wonderful thing about this palace was that it was a day that school children and other children had been brought there for lunch. I got 2 special pictures of them in Hanbok dress that day.
You won’t believe it, but during our vacation, in most places we went, there were large groups of children on tour to see those sights as well as us. They were all in school uniforms and they all were so excited to see ‘foreigners’ like us. They all waved each time we all were in the same place and they called out, “Hello…!!!…” We both smiled and waved and answered back, “…Hello…!!!…”. We did this all through our vacation and our hands were sore and aching every evening when we were in our hotels or inns or at SoJoung’s. We felt a little like royalty, as Lady Diana, for example, had said one time her hands ached at night from waving and shaking hands all day.
Central Post Office, Etc…
I do believe the picture above was taken up in the old Central Post Office where Robert and I bought some special stamps. There was an underground stamp market below here and we got some other stamps in it. The picture has a traditional-style gate and I liked the area very much.
We were very lucky as part of our trip to dress in traditional wedding clothes! Sojoung was a wedding dress designer and brought us to her place of work in Samseong-dong near the Koex Building. She had the costumes there and we were allowed to put them on. She was scandalised that I couldn’t fit into the tiny white wedding dress she also had there, as Korean women are all built much smaller than many Canadians. Everyone who gets married in Korea has 2 ceremonies: one with traditional clothes and one with a white dress like in the west.
I specifically wanted a picture of the East Gate to have all the four gates photographed by the end of my trip. I dragged my husband to Dongdaemun on the subway to get the picture, which turned out very nicely. We didn’t stay there that day but tried to. I asked if they had a room at a western-style hotel near the gate but they didn’t. I had been near there one time with Sang Hyun in 1997 at Children’s Grand Park. It was another wonderful complex in Eastern Seoul. Sang Hyun brought me on the ferris wheel. It didn’t go like our ferris wheels! It slowly, very, very slowly made ONE turn. That way you could see a lot of Seoul and all those granite-covered mountains well, especially when your booth is at the very top for a minute. I find they do things differently and better. In Canada we want the sensation of the ride but over there we’d want the view.
You must be logged in to post a comment.